As neurological science and addiction research has developed, the understanding of substance misuse has shifted from the popular belief that addiction is a choice, to proving that substance use disorders are in fact chronic brain diseases.

However, the addiction lexicon has failed to evolve with addiction science. Not only has the language surrounding addiction limped behind, it reflects the opinion of the American public: people who become physically dependent on a substance are reprehensible.

“Research has shown that people with substance use disorders are viewed more negatively than people with physical or psychiatric disabilities,” an October statement from the Obama Administration stated.

Researchers found that even mental health and addiction specialists are likely to blame individuals with a substance use disorder for their addiction.

Pondering the way we talk about addiction contributes to the evolution of the sentiment concerning those who engage with drugs or alcohol. For example, research compiled in the Obama Administration’s statement reveals that mental health professionals were more likely to believe that someone should receive punitive consequences if they were referred to as a “substance abuser” rather than “a person with a substance use disorder.”

Considering that addiction is not a moral choice or weakness of willpower, the linguistics that represent the issue need to be deliberately and carefully corrected in order to reflect medical truth — that substance addiction is a mental health issue, not a criminal justice issue or a question of ethics.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that even terms such as “getting high” denote a negative connotation because anybody that’s physically addicted to a drug is merely escaping the horror and devastating lows of withdrawal, not achieving the euphoria once experienced in the initial experimentation.

Language perpetuates the mental health and addiction stigma, which makes it difficult for people to acknowledge their mental instability and seek adequate treatment. In 2013, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Survey reported, only 2.5 million people out of the 22.7 million people with substance use disorders received treatment at a specialized facility, around 10 percent the people suffering with a substance disorder. Ninety-six percent of those people that weren’t treated didn’t receive care because they believed they didn’t need it.

The denial that is associated with substance use disorders stems from the stigma that is bolstered by language. When someone is addicted to a drug, they often respond to intervention with denial because they believe that, since they aren’t immoral, or that willpower gives them the ability to stop, addiction treatment isn’t necessary. This is a fallacy sustained by diction surrounding substance disorders. Addiction researchers and neuroscientists agree that substance disorders are… (continue reading)